Now that Amazon has officially selected New York City and northern Virginia for its second headquarters, Philadelphia policymakers are searching high and low for a silver lining to the city's unsuccessful bid. The sad truth is that the whole cloak-and-dagger process was a sham from the start, and Amazon made off with sensitive city data on economic development plans and infrastructure investments that could give the company an unfair advantage over local businesses for years to come.
Instead of trying to sugarcoat what the failed bid means, lawmakers should level with the public about exactly what was offered to Amazon for HQ2. It is time they stand up to Amazon and say no to any more corporate welfare for one of the richest companies in the world.
Amazon has been getting away with these strong-arm tactics for years. An analysis by my organization, the Free & Fair Markets Initiative, found that Amazon has received $23.5 million in subsidies from Pennsylvania taxpayers since 2000. In fact, Pennsylvania is the number one spender in the nation on corporate welfare of this sort, doling out more than $6 billion on corporate subsidies from 2007 to 2016, per the Commonwealth Foundation.
What's become absolutely clear is that corporate welfare has become central to Amazon's business model. Our analysis found that from 2000 to 2017, Amazon doled out almost $10 million on state lobbying and another $6 million to political campaigns. Amazon's own reports indicate that the tech giant spent nearly $14 million on what it calls state and local "government relations efforts" from 2013 to 2017, with annual spending peaking in 2017 at $3.6 million. A troubling report on Amazon's influence in Washington revealed that Amazon has lobbied more government entities than any other tech company. The upshot is clear: In order to grow, Amazon is increasingly trying to curry political favor behind closed doors, in the corridors of power.
Meanwhile, the subsidies have been pouring in. Amazon has received $1.5 billion in taxpayer-funded subsidies nationwide since 2000 – and that amount is about to grow exponentially from the pockets of taxpayers in New York City and northern Virginia.
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The toll on businesses and local economies across the country has been disastrous. Benefiting from seemingly endless special treatment, Amazon has rapidly expanded its shipping and distribution network and gained an unprecedented competitive edge. Now, because of the HQ2 bidding process, Amazon knows when, where, and how communities plan to invest – data every local business should have access to as well. It is simply outrageous that Amazon has insider information under lock and key, and it should be obvious that the only thing the tech giant cares about is its bottom line.
Just listen to the company's senior vice president, who said Amazon's impact on local communities is not something for Amazon to worry about.
Philadelphia lawmakers should make it clear to Amazon and other corporations that they can well afford to build future facilities in their communities on the company's own dime. Taxpayers are tired of underwriting corporate growth and record profits by giving up their hard-earned tax dollars through subsidies and giveaways.
The fact is there is no silver lining to the HQ2 process, but this should be a wake-up call to all lawmakers: Corporate welfare is a losing game. There must be transparency about everything Philadelphia put on the table and what information the city gave away. And lawmakers must promise residents that this mistake will never be repeated.
Robert B. Engel is the chief spokesperson of the Free & Fair Markets Initiative, a nonprofit coalition.